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Will I Ever See Your Sweet Return

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The night before a mission, diplomatic or otherwise, Jim liked to have dinner with his senior staff in the Ready Room. Primarily to boost morale, the dinners became something of a family tradition among him and the officers he considered friends – or family.

The meals themselves were simple, but the company was good, and they would last until it was time to turn in.

Jim reclined against a wall watching the others socialize. He took a sip of his whiskey, his eyes straying to one person in particular. He sighed into his drink; as usual, Bones didn’t notice.

Nyota walked over to him with a glass of wine in one hand. “Ready for tomorrow?” she asked with a smile.

Jim shrugged. “It sounds pretty easy. The Catalans seem amenable to joining the Federation, providing we can give them the outpost they requested.”

Nyota nodded. “They’ve been very welcoming. They have several rituals I find interesting, such as the aparellament,” she said with a curious look.

Jim raised an eyebrow. “That was mentioned in the brief. The sex thing, right? You go into that chamber, and they spray you with that stuff, and you have sex all night with the person you see in your head.”

Nyota nodded with a smile. “Something like that. Not much is known about it, honestly. I hope to learn more when we arrive tomorrow. It sounds fascinating.”

“You and Spock should give it a try, and you can report back with details,” Jim said with a lascivious grin.

Nyota shoved him in his shoulder for his trouble. “Not happening.”

“A man can dream,” Jim said, his eyes finding Bones again. He and Spock had a spirited conversation by the look of things, and Jim smiled a little at the sight.

Nyota followed his gaze, and a look of knowing passed over her features. “You could always do the aparellament yourself. I’m certain there’s a person you have in mind.”

In the midst of taking a sip of his drink, Jim choked.
Nyota smiled at him as she pat him on the back. “Are you all right?”

Jim finished coughing and stared at her. “You know?”

“Mmmm,” Nyota said. “I’ve known the both of you longer than everyone else. I couldn’t tell you the day it happened, but I did notice it some time ago.”

Sighing, Jim shrugged. “It’s stupid. I have no chance.”

“That is not at all like you,” Nyota chided. “What happened to the Jim who can get anyone he wants?”

Jim looked down at the floor. “This is different.”

“Why? Because he’s your best friend?”

Jim looked up at her. “Because I…it’s not…it isn’t about that. It’s bigger and complex. It’s…”

Nyota’s eyes softened a great deal. “You love him.”

Jim didn’t answer her with words, but he didn’t have to. The sadness and emotion in his eyes spoke volumes. “He doesn’t think of me that way. We’ll always be just friends.” He cleared his throat. “It’s fine. It’s better than nothing.”

Before Nyota could answer him, the topic of their conversation joined them. “You both look serious,” Bones said with an amused expression. “The mission tomorrow isn’t that bad.”

Nyota gave Bones a smile. “Jim and I were discussing unrequited love.”

Jim stared at Nyota, willing her to go silent.

Something shifted in Bones’ eyes before they cleared again. “Yeah, that’s…that’ll bring the room down, all right.”

Nyota took a sip of her wine. “I take it from your words you understand that situation.”

Bones glanced down and away. “We all do.”

“I admit I’ve had my fair share,” Nyota said. “There was one boy back in my grade school days I loved.”

“What happened?” Jim asked, curious despite himself.

“He loved my best friend,” Nyota said. “It was devastating.”

“Ouch,” Bones said with a sympathetic wince.

“Leonard,” Nyota said. “You’re not seeing anyone right now, are you?”

Jim glared at her, but neither she nor Bones paid him any mind.

“Can’t say that I am,” Bones said as he took a sip of bourbon.

“Is there a reason for that? You have a great deal of admirers,” Nyota continued, and if she weren’t who she was, Jim would have punched her.

Bones sighed, again looking down and away. “I have my eye on someone, but it’s kind of complicated.”

Jim’s chest and stomach turned to ice.

Of course he did.

Nyota gave Leonard a long, searching look. She then favored Jim with the same scrutiny. “If you’ll excuse us, Jim, I need to borrow Leonard,” she said, looping her arm through his.

That worked out well, because then Jim could flee. “Sure, sure. I’m getting pretty tired, so I think I’m going to head out.”

Bones looked at Jim, and for a second, Jim thought he had something more in his eyes than friendly concern. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, just…been a long day,” Jim said with a fake yawn. “I’m fine. You guys stay. See you in the transporter room in the morning.”

“Of course,” Nyota said as she steered Bones to a corner.

“Have a good night, Jim,” Bones said with a long look over his shoulder.

After saying his farewells to Spock and the others, Jim walked from the Ready Room to his quarters. He locked his door behind him and stood in the darkness.

There was no worse feeling than the confirmation of never being able to have what you wanted the most.

Bones never really expressed interest in anyone in the five years they knew each other. Some people threw themselves at him, but that first year he was far too angry and bitter. He mellowed after that, but he never really dated. It was stupid, but Jim held out hope that Bones wouldn’t ever want anyone.

It made it easier to lie to himself that Bones could be his one day.

And he wasn’t some “Nice Guy” shithead who was only friends with Bones so they’d sleep together. He loved being best friends with Bones, and it had taken a while for his feelings to shift. He hadn’t even been aware of it for a long time.

But now Bones wanted someone else.

Not even bothering to turn on the lights, Jim stripped out of his tunic and kicked off his boots, stalking back to his bed. He lay down on it, still in most of his clothes, and sighed.
“It fucking figures,” he said as he curled up on the mattress.

He hugged his knees and closed his eyes. His heart swelled and constricted in equal measure, and it beat erratically in his chest.

Bones wanted someone, and he would probably get them.
Jim sighed.

He’d have to get used to the idea, so it wouldn’t be so hard when he’d see them together.

Jim took in a deep breath, biting his bottom lip on the exhale, and then made sure his alarm was set.

No use further dwelling on it; he needed to be ready for the next day.

-----

For once, Jim was the last to arrive in the transporter room. Nyota, Spock, and Bones had already arrived, and Scotty stood behind the console ready to beam them down.

For some reason, Nyota and Bones had their heads bowed together. Nyota said something Jim couldn’t hear with a pointed look on her face, and Bones shook his head no.

Jim sighed; had she decided to help Bones go after his person? The thought made him feel betrayed, especially in light of their conversation the night before and her seeming sympathy, as he took his place on the pad.

“Captain,” Spock greeted him with a nod, and Bones and Nyota both jerked their eyes over to him with interest. “Are you ready for the coming week?”

“Yeah, of course,” Jim said with as much false cheer as he could muster. “This should be a cakewalk.”

Nyota stood next to Spock, leaving a place on the pad next to Jim. Bones took it with a small smile. “Hey, Jim.”

Jim’s heart flipped like it did every time Bones smiled, and he smiled back, the aching of his soul forgotten. “Hey, Bones.”

“Ready?” Scotty said.

“Yeah,” Jim said after getting nods from everyone else.

“All righty then,” Scotty said. “Energize.”

The lights whirred around them, and they disappeared; they rematerialized in a lavish stone room decorated with red and yellow banners. A woman with pale skin and strawberry blonde hair greeted them, wearing ornate robes of green velvet. “Captain,” she greeted with a warm smile.

“Empress,” Jim said. He reached out a hand, shaking hers.
“Let me introduce you to my crew. My First Officer, Commander Spock, my Communications Officer, Lieutenant Uhura, and my Chief Medical Officer, Leonard McCoy.”

Empress Riginalla shook each of their hands in turn. “Please allow me to have someone show you to your rooms for your stay. I do hope you find the accommodations to your liking.”

“That’s fine,” Jim said. “The talks don’t begin for a few hours.”

“Of course,” she said as three servants greeted them.

Nyota smiled. “Empress, if it’s all right, I have some questions about your culture. The briefing was not in-depth enough to be satisfying, and I’d like to know more about certain customs in your society.”

She nudged Bones, who nodded. “I would as well.”

Jim raised an eyebrow but didn’t comment. While it was unusual for Bones to make such a request, it wasn’t exactly unheard of. And since he and Nyota were such inseparable friends now, of course he’d want to hang out with her.

Jim sighed at himself, before giving Spock a look. Spock didn’t say anything or look perplexed by them wanting to spend time together. Jim sighed a second time; he needed to grow up about this.

“Okay, you two stay with the Empress, then,” Jim said. “Spock and I will go to our rooms. Just be ready in time for the round table.”

“Of course,” Nyota said with a smile.

“See you then, Jim,” Bones added.

The servants steered Jim and Spock out of the throne room and up a winding staircase. Spock was shown to the room he would share with Nyota first; Jim didn’t pause to look at it, he just followed the other servant to his room.

It was large, with an enormous bed in the middle of the floor. The sheets were the color of rubies and looked like silk. Matching red tapestries covered the walls, and there was a curtained off area that held a washbasin and tub.

“Hot water will be brought to you at your request, Captain,” the servant said. “All of the palace’s amenities are yours for the duration of your stay. There is a bell attached to the wall; ring it, and I shall come to you with haste.”

“Thanks,” Jim said as he ran his hand over the sheets. “It doesn’t get drafty in here?”

“The saunas and hot springs keep the castle at a comfortable temperature,” the servant explained. “You are more than welcome to partake of both, of course.”

Soaking in a hot spring actually sounded pretty good.

“Thanks…what was your name?”

“Phylon,” he answered.

“Thanks, Phylon,” Jim said with a smile. “If you wouldn’t mind, I’d prefer to be alone right now. I may go exploring.”

“By your leave, Captain,” Phylon said with a bow. He turned and walked out of the room, closing the door behind him.
Jim sat on the bed, again marveling at its size. He hated sleeping alone in something so large.

Well, maybe he didn’t have to. There was no sense in moping over Bones; he could find someone else to hang out with. It wouldn’t have been the first time since he discovered his feelings.

For some reason though, the thought of it made him feel sick. “Jim, you sad, romantic fool,” he said.

Sitting around made him maudlin. He needed to clear his head. By his estimation, there were still two hours before the first round of talks. He hadn’t had breakfast; he should probably eat.

Jim went off in search of the kitchens, memorizing the castle’s layout as he did. He hoped he would run into Nyota and Bones, but he didn’t come across anyone in his travels but more servants. He found his way to the dining hall, where a meal was set out.

Spock was there too with a plate, and he looked at some fruit Jim didn’t recognize with a curious expression.

“Great minds, I guess,” Jim said as he waved to Spock.

“Indeed,” Spock said as he took a piece of the fruit.

Jim grabbed thin slices of some kind of cured meat and bread. There was something that looked like mustard in a small bowl, and he helped himself to some of that as well. “Nyota and Bones sure are chummy all of a sudden,” he said.

“Nyota has offered Doctor McCoy assistance with a difficult problem,” Spock said as he took some of the bread. “He was reluctant to accept her aid at first, but it seems he has changed his opinion on the matter.”

Jim sighed; his instincts were correct. She had decided to play matchmaker. “Awesome,” he said, his voice laced with sarcasm.

As they sat at a table, Spock gave him a curious look. “You seem depressed.”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Jim said as he took a bite of his sandwich. “It’s just not been a good day for me.”

Perhaps wisely, Spock chose not to comment further. They ate in silence for a while with Spock sometimes favoring Jim with an interested stare.

“How’s your room?” Jim asked after swallowing.

“Adequate,” Spock answered, which was as close to a ringing endorsement as he gave. “I am certain Nyota will agree.”

“Yeah,” Jim said, wondering what Bones would think of his room. He got up from the table and went to get a drink; several brightly colored liquids sat in blown-glass pitchers, and Jim picked the blue one, pouring it into a goblet. He took a sip; it was refreshing, like unsweetened iced tea. He rejoined Spock after grabbing a couple of cakes that looked like some kind of chocolate.

They talked about ship’s business for a while when Bones and Nyota appeared. Bones’ face was flushed, and Nyota had a smile on her face. They filled their own plates, joining Spock and Jim.

Nyota addressed Spock in a Vulcan dialect Jim didn’t recognize, and Spock nodded and replied. Jim rolled his eyes; why was everyone keeping secrets? It was annoying as hell.

Bones looked at Jim. “You stopped eating.”

Jim looked down at the half-eaten food on his plate. “I’m not as hungry as I thought,” he lied.

Another one of those looks passed through Bones’ eyes before they settled back into their default expression. “Are you…?”

“Am I what?” Jim said with a bit more anger than was necessary.

Bones caught it, and he pursed his lips. “All I was doing was asking if you’re okay. You’ve been doom and gloom since this morning.”

“I’m surprised you noticed since you’re so busy with Nyota,” Jim said.

Bones sputtered for a second. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“Never mind,” Jim said, standing from the table. “I’m going for a walk.”

Bones sighed. “Jim…wait…” he said as he stood to follow him.

Jim rolled his eyes and walked, Bones at his heels. “What?”

“Did I do something?” Bones said, grabbing him by the arm. “I feel like you’re angry with me.”

It was a fair question, because he was. Yeah it was childish, but Jim found he was hard pressed to care. “I’m fine.”

“You don’t seem fine,” Bones said. “Jim, I just…”

“What?” Jim freed his arm from Bones’ grasp, and pain clouded Bones’ eyes.

There was a pause as they stared at each other. Finally, Bones looked down at the floor. “Nothing. Forget I brought it up.”

Jim sighed. “It’s forgotten. But I really am going for a walk, so…”

“Can I…I mean…want company?” Jim’s stupid imagination struck again, because he thought Bones looked hopeful.

“No,” Jim said. “I just want to be alone right now.”

Bones swallowed. “Sure, Jim.” He took a step backwards. “Sorry I bothered you,” he said in a quiet voice.

While Jim normally would be concerned at Bones acting so weird, because he had turned meek, and that was something Bones didn’t do pretty much ever, Jim instead felt petty joy at the fact that he hurt Bones’ feelings. “Whatever.”

He turned and walked out to the gardens - as it was winter, they were not that spectacular - and Jim did everything he could to forget his broken heart.

-----

The talks went as predicted; that is to say, smooth. They adjourned for supper, and Jim enjoyed conversing with the Empress more about things not related to treaties. The conversation went on long enough that he lost track of his shipmates, and before he knew it, he yawned in the middle of a word.

“It’s not the company,” he explained to Riginalla, who smiled with understanding. “I’d love to finish this conversation, but we have another long day ahead of us tomorrow.”

“Of course, Captain,” she said. “I shall bid you a good evening.”

Jim bowed at her before walking back the way to his room. He opened the door, turning to close it as it was heavy wood and brass. He then leaned against it and sighed.

When he opened his eyes, he blinked for a second in the dim candlelight of his room.

Bones lay on his bed, wearing only his boxers.

“Um…” Jim said eloquently. “What the hell, Bones?”

Bones smiled, opening his arms to him. “Hello, Jim.”

Jim stared at him. “I don’t…I have no idea what’s going on.”

Bones got up and began to walk over to him. “I’ve been waiting.”

Jim clenched his fists. “If this is some kind of joke…”

“I’m not laughing,” Bones said. He stood in front of Jim, and his eyes were full of longing and desire. “I want you.”

Jim stared at Bones, his mouth going dry. “This uh…this is kind of out of left field.”

Bones came closer, getting in Jim’s personal space and backing him into the door. He took Jim’s hands, wrapping them around his waist. Jim’s face flushed, and he looked down at the floor. Before he could dodge or back away, Bones kissed him on the mouth. Jim squeaked into it, his eyes snapping up to look at Bones’ face.

Bones was flushed all the way down his torso, and his eyes were dilated. He leaned in and kissed Jim a second time, and when Jim opened his mouth to protest, Bones took advantage, sliding his tongue inside.

Jim’s knees went weak, and he trembled. It felt so good, but…why? He broke the kiss. “But…you want someone…”

Bones kissed him again, ignoring his words. Jim’s resolve died, and he clutched Bones to him like he would disappear. Bones made a noise of approval as they kissed, hot and wet, until air become too much of a necessity.

Jim licked his lips, staring into Bones’ eyes. Bones smiled at him again, although it was different from any smile Jim had ever seen him give prior. It was softer somehow and full of want.

“I burn for you,” Bones whispered, and Jim groaned. “Do you burn for me?”

Jim closed his eyes, leaning back into the door. He nodded once.

“You are my estimat,” Bones continued. “Together, we are one.”

Jim’s eyes flew open. “Wait, I’m your…” He groaned a second time. “Shit.” He freed himself from Bones’ arms, walking away from him. He turned to look at him when he got some distance. “You did that thing. The aparellament?”

Bones wasn’t deterred. He walked toward Jim. “It led me to you.”

Jim sat on the bed and sighed. He buried his face in his hands. For a second, it seemed like Bones loved him. He only did this because of a forced chemical reaction.

God damn it.

“What’s wrong?” Bones said, kneeling on the floor between Jim’s legs. “You said you burn for me.”

“I can’t do this,” Jim said. “You don’t really want this; that steam or whatever is making this happen.” Jim sighed. “I don’t want you any way except the right way.”

“This is right,” Bones said. “The aparellament would not have led me here if I didn’t already want you.”

“But you just want this,” Jim said, his voice sad. “It’s not the same.”

I burn for you,” Bones repeated.

Jim looked in Bones’ eyes, and the naked longing in them made his heart skip. It was one night. For one night, he could have Bones the way he ached to.

Jim had always considered himself a strong person, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that he was a selfish person. He was also self-serving, something which aided him in his captaincy when he would refuse to compromise the lives of his crew. Jim held no illusions about these parts of his personality.

He wanted Bones for so long…there was no way he could refuse.

Jim grabbed Bones’ hands, pulling him to stand in between his legs. He looked up into Bones’ hazel eyes, did nothing but look up into them for a minute. He reached out, resting his head against Bones’ stomach, and held him close. He did this for a while before closing his eyes and kissing his stomach, his skin warm and dry against his lips. Bones’ hands went to his shoulders as Jim kissed above the waistband of his boxers, which were black silk.

Jim looked up into Bones’ eyes again, standing to face him. With his boots on and Bones’ feet bare, he had an inch on him, and he looked down into his eyes. He leaned in, closing the distance, and kissed him almost chastely. Bones made a pleased noise as he moved his hands into Jim’s hair. The kiss turned fevered, and Jim crushed Bones to his body.

Bones’ hands left Jim’s hair to grab the hems of his shirts. Jim broke the kiss and let go of Bones, raising his arms so he could pull the shirts off. He dropped them to the floor by their feet and smiled at Jim with…it looked a lot like love.

Jim tried not to dwell on that as Bones undid the fly of his regulation pants. Bones pushed the gray fabric down his hips, and they pooled down at Jim’s feet. He bent down to undo the fastenings on Jim’s boots, and Jim stepped out of everything. He reached out a hand and pulled Bones onto the bed with him, and they lay facing each other on their sides.

Bones leaned forward, capturing Jim’s lips in another kiss. He nipped at Jim’s bottom lip, causing Jim to moan. They rolled so Jim lay on his back, Bones straddling his hips. Jim placed his hands on Bones’ thighs, stroking them. He could feel the fine hairs as he ran his hands up and down the hard muscle.

“Take me,” Bones said with a smile. “Take me, Jim.”

Jim swallowed, his cock throbbing at his words. “I…” He swallowed before flipping them.

Bones lay on his back with his knees bent, Jim slotted in between his thighs. Jim thrust his hips into Bones’ groin, causing Bones to gasp. He did this a few times before kissing his throat, his collarbone, everywhere he could reach.

Bones’ hands stroked his back, cool against his skin. He let go of Bones to pull down his briefs, but before he could, Bones’ hands did the work for him. He peeled them down, Jim kicking them off. Bones discarded his own boxers in a similar manner, dropping them onto the floor.

Jim pulled back enough to take in the sight of Bones’ body; he was pale from too many days without natural light, but freckles dusted his shoulders and chest. His chest was nice with a patch of hair in the middle. His stomach was soft, not a six-pack, but it was cute. His cock stood from a patch of dark brown hair, fully erect, and it was a good cock, just long enough the way Jim liked them.

Jim’s heart ached at the sight of him; he was flawless.

Bones smiled up at him, and Jim bent down to kiss him again. “God, you’re perfect,” he said.

Bones smiled into the kiss. “So are you, estimat.” Before Jim could ask what that meant, Bones deepened the kiss to suck on Jim’s tongue.

Jim groaned before pulling back. “We…we need…” He looked around the room for something, anything that would work as lubricant. Next to the bathtub sat a table with about a dozen jars of oils and liquids on it. He shot off the bed, taking a look at them. He found a gold oil that didn’t smell too flowery, and he brought it back to the bed.

He sat next to Bones, reaching out to turn him over. Bones complied without questioning, pushing himself up to his hands and knees. Jim coated one hand with some of the oil, letting it warm on his skin. He pressed open-mouthed kisses down Bones’ spine, Bones making broken little moans with every caress of his tongue.

Jim spread Bones’ ass with one hand, sliding his tongue down into the cleft and to Bones’ entrance. He licked around the ring of muscle before sliding his tongue inside it. Bones fisted his hands in the sheets with a low cry. Jim slid his tongue in and out, and Bones shuddered and yelled beneath him.

Jim wasn’t above smirking into his skin as he slid a slick finger into Bones alongside his tongue. He slid his tongue out, pressing the finger into a soft spot, drawing another shudder from Bones. After sliding the finger in and out for a while, he added a second one, again pressing into his prostate.

Bones’ breaths hitched out onto sobs. “More,” he said, his voice hoarse and accent thick.

Jim hitched a breath of his own. “Patience,” he said, adding a third finger. “Want you to feel good, not hurt, Bones.”

Bones nodded his head, stuttering out a noise between a groan and a cry as all three fingers pressed into that spot.

“Please, Jim,” Bones breathed. “Please. Now.”

Jim ignored him; he continued the relentless fingering, even though he was desperate to be within him. “Just another minute.”

Sweat glistened between Bones’ shoulders as Jim decided it was time. He slid his fingers out, grabbing Bones’ thigh to pull him onto his back. Bones followed his movements, nothing but pliant as he rolled over. Precome leaked out of the tip of his cock, and Jim bent down to lick it, tasting him. It was salty, but not bitter, and Jim reveled in the heat of his cock for a minute. Bones arched his hips up with a shout as Jim cleaned his cock with his tongue.

Jim grabbed the oil again, spreading it on his cock. Some dripped onto the sheets, but he didn’t care about that as he grabbed Bones’ hips, lining himself up at his entrance. He pushed into him a little a time, until he was buried to the hilt. Being within Bones so intimately was nothing short of miraculous; if Jim could only feel one thing for the rest of his life, it would be that. He looked down at Bones, and they made eye contact.

If Jim hadn’t known better, it would have been easy to convince him that Bones loved him from the look in his eyes.

Jim squeezed his own eyes closed, unable to meet his gaze anymore. He buried his face in Bones’ neck as he moved, his rhythm slow and burning as he thrust in and out. Bones wrapped his legs around Jim’s waist; he put his hands on Jim’s shoulders, closed his eyes, and groaned.

Jim took his still slick hand and wrapped it around Bones’ cock, pulling on it in time with the movement of his body. The weight of him in his hand felt perfect, like they were meant for this.

Bones cried out and sighed at the contact. “Oh, Jim,” he said. “Jim.”

Jim bit his bottom lip; he could feel his orgasm already approach. “Bones,” he said as he stroked his cock more furiously.

Bones arched his back, wrapping his legs around him tighter. They rocked together on the bed, Bones continuing to moan Jim’s name. It only took a little longer for Bones to stiffen and shout under Jim, come pouring over his fist. Jim hitched in his breath as he drove into Bones, almost there, almost…

Jim’s eyes flew open as he came, pulsing inside Bones. He panted into his throat, his body trembling from the force of it. Bones stroked his back and shoulders, and Jim slid out of Bones, rolling over to lie next to him.

Bones moved so he lay on his side looking down at Jim. Jim looked up into his eyes, and his heart ached at what he saw there. Bones reached out a hand and stroked Jim’s face with the tips of two fingers.

Jim grabbed Bones’ hand and kissed his palm on his lifeline. Smiling at him, Bones moved so his head rested on Jim’s shoulder. Wrapping Bones in his arms, Jim stared up at the ceiling.

Jim swallowed. “So…what happens now?”

Bones faced him, pausing at Jim’s expression. “Why are you sad?”

Jim shook his head. “Don’t ask me that. You can ask me anything else, but…not that.”

There was a lot of worry in Bones’ eyes, but he acquiesced to Jim’s wishes. “What happens now is we spend the night enjoying each other. Then, when the morning comes, the aparellament will be complete.”

And this will all be over, Jim finished in his head. He tightened his arms around Bones. Unable to speak, he held him. They lay still for so long he thought Bones fell asleep, until Bones kissed his neck.

Jim tilted his head to one side out of reflex. Encouraged by this, Bones kissed his way down Jim’s throat towards his collarbone, his lips searing his skin with every caress. Jim sighed as Bones wrapped a hand around his cock, coaxing it back to life.

Jim groaned as he felt it fill and harden; Bones’ own cock was erect, and he continued to kiss a blazing trail down Jim’s body. “Oh, Bones, you don’t want to…”

“Shhh,” Bones said as he dipped his tongue into Jim’s navel. “Let me.”

Jim looked down at him. “Sure,” he choked out.

Bones bypassed licking Jim’s cock, sliding his hand off it to stroke Jim’s perineum. He rubbed it, slowly at first but then more insistent. Jim arched up, crying out as Bones worked him with his hand. Bones slid his hand down to Jim’s entrance, circling it, before returning it to stroke his perineum.

Clenching his hands in the sheets, Jim shouted. “Oh, God,” he said as he shook underneath Bones. All he could feel was Bones’ hand against his sensitive skin. “Fuck.”

Bones continued his ministrations, stroking Jim almost too hard. “Tell me when you get close,” Bones said.

“Okay,” Jim said on the edge of a shaky breath. “I mean, I’m getting there.” And he was; Bones had barely done anything, but just the fact that it was Bones was enough to bring him to the edge.

Bones nodded and grabbed Jim’s cock with his free hand, pumping it in his fist. It was almost too much pleasure as Jim came with a cry, his come shooting into Bones’ open mouth. Some streaked on Bones’ cheek, and he smiled.

“Jesus,” Jim said as he took in the sight before him. “Damn, Bones.”

Bones reached his tongue out, licking the come off his face, and Jim had never seen anything sexier in his life. Jim reached out and pushed Bones back onto his back, looking at his erection.

Jim slid down his body, peppering it with kisses as he made his way to his goal. His hands roved over Bones’ body, savoring the feel of him, the warmth of his skin and the muscles beneath his hands. He lay in between Bones’ legs, taking one of his balls into his mouth.

Bones jerked and groaned as he slid a hand into Jim’s hair. Jim made a pleased sound as he licked his other testicle before moving his mouth up Bones’ shaft. He wrapped his lips over his teeth as he took Bones’ cock deep in his mouth, savoring the heat and hardness. Then he slid his mouth back up and down again.

“Oh, Jim,” Bones sighed as Jim took him as deep as he would go. He backed off Bones’ cock to swirl his tongue around his head. Then he went to the underside and licked a wet stripe up his cock back to the tip. He savored the taste of every inch of skin, the warmth against his tongue.

Jim took him deep again, and when Bones tensed underneath him, he pulled back in time for Bones to come in his mouth with a shout. Jim held the come in his mouth for a second, memorizing the flavor; it might have been the heartsickness talking, but Bones tasted good. Somewhat sweet mixed with a salty taste that Jim never experienced before.

Jim swallowed, pulling off Bones and resting his head on his thigh. Bones loosened his grip in Jim’s hair, pulling him by the shoulders to face him.

Bones’ smile was gorgeous, and Jim again felt the pangs in his heart. “Hi,” Jim said, not trusting himself with a longer word.

“Hello,” Bones said, drawing Jim down to him so they could kiss. Apparently Bones’ issues about bodily fluids didn’t extend to sex, because he had no qualms about kissing Jim post-blow job. They lingered together, and Jim sighed into it, content to do nothing else all night.

The need for air won again, and this time Jim rested on Bones’ chest. He ran his fingers through the hair on it, and Bones made a soft noise almost like a purr. Jim closed his eyes and breathed him in; Bones’ scent was incredible. There was the sweat and come combined with a rugged musk and hint of sandalwood and grass.

Bones traced patterns in one of Jim’s arms with a finger. “You’re still sad,” Bones said after a while.

“I’m trying not to be,” Jim admitted. “It’s hard, though.”

Bones took a hand and lifted Jim’s face so their eyes met. Bones’ eyes were soft and so full of emotion. “Will you let me make you happy?”

Jim could almost believe he meant it. “Sure,” he said.

Bones smiled. He sat up, taking Jim with him. They arranged themselves to they sat in between each other’s legs, face-to-face. Bones held Jim’s face in his hands, searching his eyes. He must have decided he was satisfied, because he leaned in, touching their foreheads together.

Jim held Bones close, savoring it. He reached out a hand, touching the freckles on Bones’ shoulders. Bones sighed a little as he kissed Jim’s forehead and cheek.

“Would you like to bathe?” Bones asked.

Jim swallowed. “The only thing I want is in my arms,” he said, unable to lie.

Bones smiled, and Jim returned it, though his was shaky. Bones kissed Jim again, and Jim tried to let go of all his fears and doubts. They kissed again and again, Bones cradling Jim in his arms to lay him on his back. The kissing progressed into making out, and to Jim’s own surprise, he got hard for the third time.

“This has got to be some kind of record,” Jim said.

Bones didn’t answer with words, instead kissing and stroking his way down Jim’s body. His mouth latched onto one of Jim’s nipples, causing Jim to hiss in pleasure. Bones ran a hand down Jim’s torso to stroke his pelvis, coming dangerously close to his cock.

“Bones?” Jim said, preparing himself to say it.

Bones pulled off his nipple to look him in the eye. “Yes?”

“Fuck me,” Jim said. “Please, just this once. I…I need to know how it feels.”

Bones smiled. “As you wish.” He rolled to the edge of the bed to grab the oil. Bones spread some on his fingers, letting it warm like Jim did. He slid a finger down to Jim’s entrance, pushing it inside and immediately finding his prostate.

“Oh holy shit,” Jim groaned as his eyes rolled up in the back of his head. “Fucking doctor. Shit.”

Bones smirked as he slid the finger in and out, stretching the tight ring of muscle. After a minute or so of this, he added the second finger. Jim forced himself to keep his eyes open, not wanting to miss the look on Bones’ face.

This was a good decision, because Bones looked…hungry was the only word for it. Jim committed his expression to memory, resigning himself to the fact that it would haunt his dreams.

Bones added the third finger, and Jim sighed. Once he was satisfied, Bones pulled them back up so he sat straight with Jim straddling his legs. Jim looked at him with a questioning expression.

“Ride me,” Bones instructed.

Oh.

“Can do,” Jim said. Bones held his cock straight as Jim lowered himself onto it with a whine. He reveled in the feeling of Bones inside of him for a minute; it felt so right, and his eyes burned a little at the realization.

Then he moved.

Jim rocked on Bones’ lap, making little mewls as his cock rubbed against his prostate. Bones reached his clean hand up to stroke his face, his oil-slicked one wrapping around Jim’s cock. Bones would plant kisses on Jim’s cheeks, his throat, everywhere as Jim moved.

Jim panted and mewled. Bones pulled on his cock faster, more furious. Jim gripped Bones’ shoulders hard enough to bruise, keeping his balance. Speeding his pace, Jim tried to get Bones to come before him.

Another orgasm built low in Jim’s body, starting in his stomach and spreading throughout his groin. His come shot out in spurts onto Bones’ chest, Jim making a loud whine as it happened. This was enough to set Bones off, because all of a sudden he shouted and Jim felt his cock shoot inside him. Jim closed his eyes, again committing everything to memory.

Jim rested his head on Bones’ shoulder as the white spots cleared from his vision. He shook a little and wrapped his arms around Bones. Bones pulled back to look at him, and he smiled. Jim returned it, and they kissed a long, lazy one that felt like it lasted for hours.

Jim broke it. “We should probably not…you know…”

Bones looked like he understood, because he let Jim lift off his now-soft cock to sit next to him. They quickly went back into a laying position; Jim lying with Bones spooned up behind him. Jim struggled for something to say.

He didn’t have to; Bones spoke, almost too softly to hear. “Estimat.”

Jim wondered what that meant, but he was too scared to ask lest he find out it was “fuck-buddy” or whatever. “Sure, Bones,” he said instead.

Bones kissed behind his ear. “We should sleep,” he said with a yawn.

This made Jim’s heart flip-flop. “Yeah.”

Bones yawned, and before long, his breathing deepened and evened out. Jim lay in his arms with his eyes wide open for a long time.

He’d be gone before Bones would wake.

-----

Before dawn, Jim dressed and snuck out of his room, leaving Bones alone in his bed. It would be better that they didn’t wake up together. It’d be easier for them to keep their friendship intact this way, he told himself.

The real reason was he didn’t want Bones to confirm that the one night was it.

Jim walked through the palace as quietly as he could; he didn’t look in the right direction when he turned a corner, because he crashed into someone. “Oh God, I’m sorry I’m…”

“What are you doing?” Nyota asked.

“Oh wow, I didn’t…I wasn’t looking,” Jim said. “Hey why are you up?”

“I went for a run while Spock meditated,” Nyota said, and Jim did notice then she was in a pair of sweatpants and a Starfleet Academy windbreaker. “You didn’t answer my question. What are you doing? Why aren’t you with Leonard?”

A sick feeling filled Jim at her words. “How would you know about that?”

“Because I’m the one that set it up,” Nyota explained. “You need to go back to him.”

Fury replaced the sickness. “You set this up. What the hell, Nyota? What did I ever do to you deserve this?”

“I am your friend, Jim, which is why I did what I did,” Nyota blinked at him. “You’re angry. Why on earth are you angry with me? I did you both a favor.”

“Yeah, some favor,” Jim spat. “A little taste of what’s never going to be mine, just enough to get me hooked, but not enough to actually matter! Yeah, that’s great, Nyota! Some fucking friend!”

Nyota’s eyes narrowed and her mouth formed a tight line before something like realization spread across her face. “You weren’t with us when we learned about the aparellament. You still think it’s just a night of sex.”

“Sure could have fooled me, considering I showed up to my room to find Bones practically naked, telling me he burns for me.” Jim shook his head. “What else could it possibly be?”

“A life-bonding, Jim,” Nyota said. “Aparellament means mating. As in, with your mate.”

Jim’s stomach dropped down into his knees. “What?”

“It only works if both people feel the same,” Nyota continued. “And if the relationship hasn’t been…consummated.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “I wanted to try it, but can’t because Spock and I have long-since consummated. So I suggested Leonard do it to finally get the two of you to stop being so stupid all of the time.”

If both people feel the same...

“And it’s not completed,” Nyota ground out. “Unless you wake together.”

“A life bond? Bones wants…” Jim found it difficult to breathe. “Oh God, I gotta go.”

“Yes, I would suggest that,” Nyota said. “And Jim? The next time you accuse me of doing something to deliberately injure your heart, I suggest you duck. Because my fist will break that strong jaw of yours.”

Jim didn’t reply as he took off at a sprint back to his room. He made some kind of land speed record, because he whipped the door open to find Bones getting dressed. “Oh thank God. Bones…”

“What?” Bones said without looking at him. There was a stiff set to his shoulders as he pulled on his shirt.

“I’ve made a mistake,” Jim began.

“That makes two of us,” Bones said. He still wouldn’t look at him, and bile rose in Jim’s throat.

“No, Bones listen,” Jim said. “Please give me a chance to explain. It’s not what you think.”

Bones finally did look at him then, and the look on his face was absolutely heart-rending. Jim had never seen him look so hurt or betrayed.

“I do this stupid fucking ritual because Nyota assures me that you fucking love me, and what happens? You bolt. Just like you do with everyone else you fuck. You God damn bolted.”

“I did but not because of why you think,” Jim pleaded. “Bones, please, let me explain. Please let me do that, and if it’s not satisfactory, you can yell at me, punch me, storm out, whatever you want. But please, I am begging you, give me five minutes of your time.”

Bones crossed his arms over his chest but once again wouldn’t meet Jim’s gaze. “Fine.”

“Okay. Okay.” Jim took a tentative step forwards. “I didn’t know what it was, Bones. I thought it was just a sex thing. I didn’t know the part involving unconsummated emotions, I swear I didn’t.”

“Oh, like that makes it better,” Bones said. “You just used me for…”

“I’m not done!” Jim said, and Bones fell silent. “I thought it was all you wanted. You said the other night you want someone…well, I didn’t realize that someone is me. I thought you meant someone else. So because I’m apparently really fucking weak, I took what you offered.”

Bones didn’t interrupt him this time, but he still wouldn’t look at him, either.

“I took what you offered because…because I thought it was my one chance to know what it’s like,” Jim said, taking another step toward him.

“What what’s like?” Bones asked.

“To be loved by you,” Jim said. “I wanted to know what it was like to…to be with you. Just once.” Jim sighed. “I tried to say no at first, and that’s why I kept looking so sad. Because I really thought last night was all I’d ever get.”

Bones did look at him then; a lot of the hostility left his body, but his eyes were still in turmoil.

“I don’t even know what that one word means still,” Jim said. “Estimat. I was afraid to ask.”

“It means beloved,” Bones said with a thick swallow.

Jim buried his face in his hands. “Fuck. I fucked this up.”

“Yup,” Bones said.

“Bones,” Jim said, closing the rest of the distance between them. He knelt down on the ground in front of Bones, who looked at a spot on the floor next to him. “Bones, I swear to you, if I knew, I would have never left. And I swear I only left because I didn’t have the strength to face you telling me that was it.” Jim gave Bones an imploring look. “Please, Bones, please believe me. I would never, ever hurt you like this on purpose.”

“But you still did it,” Bones said.

“I did, and I am sorry,” Jim said. “I will never, ever stop saying sorry to you for this.”

Jim took a chance and took Bones’ hands in his. He considered it a small victory that Bones didn’t pull away.

“Bones, I want this. I want a life bonding with you. I’ve wanted it for so long; I don’t remember what it’s like to not feel it. Maybe we can try it again…maybe I can do it this time...”

Bones shrugged. “Who says I want that?”

Jim recoiled. “If you’ve changed your mind about me from this, I can’t entirely blame you. I’ve fucked us up before, but not to this extent.” He looked up into Bones’ eyes. “Please, Bones. You can doubt everything else I’ve ever said, but don’t doubt this: I love you.”

It took a while for Bones to reply. “I need to think about it.”

Jim’s face fell. “Right, I…sure, I mean. You can…that’s fine.” Clearing his throat, Jim stood. “Take all the time you want. To think.”

Bones looked up at him, but his eyes had closed off. It was enough to make Jim feel the loneliest he ever felt in his whole life. “I’ll let you know when I’ve made my decision.”

“Yeah,” Jim said. “Thanks. I’ll…let you finish getting dressed.”

Jim walked out the room, closing the door behind him. He sat on the ground by it, hugging himself around his knees.

Just…God fucking damn it.

-----

Jim spent the rest of the morning wandering the grounds alone, too ashamed to face any of his friends. On top of having ruined things with Bones, he remembered that awful accusation he made to Nyota. He owed her a round of groveling too.

Empress Riginalla was also on the grounds, saying soothing words to an animal that looked like a cross between a horse and a zebra. She wore a cape over her robes as she stroked the animal’s flank. Realizing someone watched her, she turned to Jim with a smile.

Jim forced one on his face. “Empress, good morning,” he said as he walked toward her.

“Good morning, Captain,” she replied with a knowing smile. “I trust you had a good evening when you retired. I am also surprised to find you alone.”

Jim’s smile froze. How did she know? Wait, Nyota and Bones talked to her about the aparellament. She must have helped orchestrate Bones performing the ritual. “It wasn’t what I expected, the aparellament,” he admitted.

A curious look passed over her features. “How so?”

Jim sighed. “There was a bit of a misunderstanding; I was missing some crucial information about the ritual, and I thought it was a one-time thing. I didn’t know it was more than that, so I…” He swallowed. “I did something I shouldn’t have, and now I’ve broken his heart.”

The Empress’ expression became serious; her brows furrowed and her mouth was a straight line. “You did not complete the bond.”

Jim sighed. “No, because I didn’t know there was a bond to complete. If I had, I would have stayed. But I thought…”

“To not complete the bond is a grave mistake,” she interrupted. “It is a great dishonor on both the act of the bonding and the other party.”

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Jim sighed a second time. Terrific. Not only had he fucked things up with Bones, now he fucked things up with the Empress.

“I swear I would have completed it had I known there was anything to complete. It’s my fault for not knowing, I understand that. I should have asked Bones what was up instead of making an assumption. I have nothing but the utmost respect for you and your people, Empress; I would never dishonor your customs on purpose,” he said, bowing his head in a sign of respect.

He must have had some look on his face, because the Empress’ expression changed to that of pity. “The knowledge that you have injured your estimat is enough punishment for you, Captain. I shan’t seek legal retribution as I would with one of my own citizens.”

Jim winced. “Thank you, Empress.” Forcing himself to meet her gaze, he bit his bottom lip for a second. “Is there anything I can do? Should he decide he still wants to be with me, I mean? Is there a way to…fix the bond, or have a do-over?”

“Once the love is consummated, the aparellament may not be performed,” the Empress explained. “It is, unfortunately, a one-time ritual.”

Jim nodded. “I was afraid you’d say that,” he admitted.

They walked together, the Empress leading her horse, and they were silent as they contemplated Jim’s situation. With a heavy heart, Jim began to make his peace with the fact that he and Bones couldn’t be bonded. He’d royally fucked up beyond repair.

“There is one possibility,” the Empress said, and Jim looked at her with curiosity and not a little hope in his eyes. “There is no guarantee it would work, however.”

“What does it entail?” Jim stopped walking, and she turned to face him. “I’m willing to try anything.”

“There is a ritual, the ànima reparació. It is a repair of the soul,” the Empress explained. “It is for those whose bonds become damaged due to sickness. Both of the bonded must participate, and it is more arduous than the aparellament.”

“Sure,” Jim said.

“It has never been attempted on an incomplete bond,” she continued. “I am not certain it would work. Also, the longer time passes, the less likely it is that your bond can be repaired. Incomplete bonds fade each day until there is nothing left.”

Jim winced; so he had to convince Bones to do this within a day or two at most. How on Earth could he do that with how badly he hurt him? He’d be lucky if Bones ever trusted him again.

“I understand,” Jim said to the Empress. “I...I don’t know that I can get him to come around quickly, but I’ll try.”

Riginalla considered Jim with a long look; her expression shifted into a small smile. “If he is truly your estimat, he will see reason. Perhaps not today, but he will.”

Thinking back to the last words Bones said to him, Jim shook his head. “I’m not so sure of that.”

“Have faith, Captain,” the Empress said as she mounted the horse. “Things often work out the way they should.”

With a nod to him, she took off at a gallop, leaving Jim alone with his thoughts. He wrapped his arms around himself, suppressing a shudder at the memory of Bones’ embrace. He walked back to the palace, heading back to the dining hall to get something to eat.

Once inside it, he saw that Spock sat eating something that looked like some kind of yogurt. Knowing them well enough to know Nyota told Spock what happened, Jim thought about leaving. He realized this was stupid, and he grabbed some pastries, taking a seat next to Spock.

Spock looked at him with a raised eyebrow. “Captain,” he said.

“Hello, Spock,” Jim said.

They stared at each other for a minute.

Jim cleared his throat. “Go on. Get it over with.”

“I believe to do so would be the equivalent of the Terran expression ‘kicking you while you are down’,” Spock said, his words clipped. “However, I must point out that blaming Nyota for your mistake is most illogical.”

“I plan on begging for her forgiveness,” Jim said. “I realize no matter how angry I thought I had the right to be, she didn’t deserve that. So I’ll find her soon and make amends, I promise.”

Spock inclined his head in a nod. “That is acceptable.”

Jim nodded, taking a bite of one of the pastries. They ate in silence, Jim not knowing what else to say.

Spock broke it after a few minutes. “You do not look well.”

“I ruined my life this morning,” Jim said. “Most people wouldn’t look great.”

Spock gave Jim a pointed look. “I think it is premature to make such a statement.”

“You didn’t see him,” Jim said, his voice quiet. “Or hear what he said.”

Staring at him for a minute, Spock raised an eyebrow. “I think making assumptions instead of discussing what Doctor McCoy feels is what caused this conundrum, and I would think you would realize that doing so is a fool’s pursuit.”

Jim swallowed his pastry without tasting it. “No, I…I know. I know I shouldn’t put words in his mouth. I just…I don’t deserve anything better. I don’t.”

Spock’s expression shifted just enough for Jim to notice the sympathy. “Punishing yourself is illogical and benefits no one.”

Jim looked down at his plate. “Right now it’s all I have.”

“That is patently false,” Spock said. “I have been, and always shall be, your friend, Jim.”

Jim’s eyes shot up to Spock’s face in surprise. “Thanks,” he whispered.

“Of course,” Spock answered. “I am certain if you give the doctor some time, he will realize you did not act with maliciousness.”

“He knows that,” Jim said. “I told him everything. He just…my intent doesn’t matter. What matters are my actions, and I acted like a coward.” He swallowed.

Spock nodded. “I cannot refute that.”

Jim blanched.

“I think you are perhaps underestimating Doctor McCoy,” Spock continued. “While he and I do not always agree, I have never been able to fault him for his heart. Perhaps if you give him some time he will come to see things more clearly.”

“Yeah, he might be able to forgive me eventually,” Jim said. “If we want to repair the bond, though, there’s not a lot of time left.”

“I comprehend that, but you cannot force the issue,” Spock said. “He must come to the decision on his own terms. More to the point, you must permit him to do so for himself.”

“Yeah,” Jim said. “I know. That doesn’t make it any easier.”

Spock nodded. He turned toward the doorway, and Jim followed his line of sight. Nyota and Bones stood in the entrance, their gazes finding Jim’s. Bones’ face flushed, and he looked away, while Nyota’s expression turned stony. Jim pushed his plate away and stood.

“Sorry, Spock, I should go,” he said. “Thanks for the conversation.”

“Of course, Captain,” Spock said. “I shall see you at the talks in one hour.”

Jim nodded and left the hall out the side entrance so he didn’t have to face them a second time. Not for the first time he wondered when he became so weak, but he didn’t dwell on it.

Instead he went back to his room to try to nap before the talks.

-----

Again, the talks went well. There was minimal opposition from the Empress’ Estates General. Only two delegates were against the alliance with the Federation; they were outnumbered, so the voting went rather fast.

Instead of joining everyone for dinner, Jim stood on a balcony overlooking the palace grounds. It snowed during the afternoon, and they were covered in a lush white blanket. He looked up at the sky, counting the stars for a while. He could make out several constellations, his eye trained on one that was similar to Earth’s Sagittarius.

As always, his thoughts turned to Bones. They didn’t interact much during the meeting, which was not atypical for a diplomatic function. When they did talk, Bones wouldn’t meet his eyes still, causing Jim’s heart to sink into the floor.

The balcony door opened behind him. “Oh, I didn’t…” a voice said, and Jim turned to face its speaker.

It was Nyota.

Her expression again shifted to be icy, and she gave Jim a pointed look. Jim sighed. “I’ll go,” he said, moving to walk back inside.

Nyota inclined her head. “Probably wise.”

Jim, who had taken several steps to the door, sighed. He forced himself to look at her. “I’m…”

“You’re what?” she asked as she crossed her arms over her chest.

“Sorry,” Jim said. “I never should have accused you of trying to hurt me. I was upset and not thinking straight. I don’t really think you’d do anything like that, Nyota. I regretted the words when they came out of my mouth.” Jim looked down at the stone. “It’s a pitiful excuse, but it’s the only one I have. I just keep ruining everything, and I wish I’d never come here. It wasn’t worth it because I lost two people I care for in one fell swoop.”

Her eyes softened, and Nyota relaxed her posture. “You haven’t lost me.”

“It feels like it,” Jim said. “You weren’t even this cold to me at school.”

“I didn’t care this much about you at school,” Nyota said. “Jim, I’m one of your closest friends. It…stings that you think I wouldn’t have your best interest at heart.”

“I reacted without having all the information,” Jim explained. “I shouldn’t have. I should have asked questions or done anything other than what I said. I am so sorry that I said those awful things, Nyota, and I’m sorry for not apologizing to you sooner.”

“I accept your apology,” Nyota said. “I'm sorry as well for going behind your back. Just because I had good intentions doesn't mean this isn't partially my fault. I should have told you my plans, and I'm sorry I didn't."

Jim sort-of smiled. "Thanks."

"I was serious about breaking your jaw if you ever go there again, though,” Nyota continued.

“Fair enough,” Jim said. “Would you still like me to go?”

“No, you can stay. I’d like the company.” She moved to stand against the railing, and Jim joined her. They stood in companionable silence, and the snow fell a second time around them.

Jim looked down at the grounds, brushing some of the snow out of his hair. “He hates me, doesn’t he?”

Nyota shook her head. “He’s hurting, Jim. I don’t think he could ever hate you, even if he wanted to.”

“I’d deserve it if he did,” Jim continued.

“No, you wouldn’t,” Nyota said. “You made a mistake. A rather large one, but not one that is unforgiveable. He just needs some time.”

“That’s what Spock said,” Jim said. “But I don’t know how much time we have.”

“What do you mean?” Nyota turned to face him, Jim doing the same.

“There might be a way to fix the incomplete bond,” Jim said. “But it’s time sensitive. I know I can’t force him to make a decision before he’s ready, but…well. It is what it is.”

Nyota’s eyes filled with sympathy. “I can’t promise you anything.”

“I know,” Jim said. “He made that crystal clear.”

“Would you like me to try talking to him?” Nyota asked. “I can see where his head is.”

Considering it for a minute, Jim shook his head. “As much as I’d like to say yes, I think this is something he needs to figure out for himself. Thanks, though.”

“I may do it anyways,” Nyota said. “I think he’ll make a mistake if he’s unwilling to give you a second chance.”

“It’s his mistake to make, though I’ve made enough for the both of us,” Jim said. “All I can do is wait now.”

Nyota nodded. “Well, I’ll see how he feels in the morning. We talked for a while earlier, but I don’t think he told me anything you don’t already know.”

“Probably not,” Jim said. “I saw the look on his face. I heard it in his voice, too. Did he tell you I told him everything?”

“He told me,” Nyota said. “It was very brave of you to be so forthright. I know what that must have cost you.”

“It wasn’t enough,” Jim said, gripping the railing tight. “I don’t know what more I can do.”

“I don’t think there is really anything else you can,” Nyota said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “It’s up to Leonard now. He has to decide if your love is worth more than his pride.”

Jim closed his eyes. “I know.”

“I can’t tell you what decision he’ll make,” Nyota continued. “I can’t make any guarantees. All I can say is…don’t give up before you have to. Let him decide and abide by it when he does. If his decision doesn’t go your way, well…you have to accept that and learn how to move on.”

Learn how to move on without Bones.

Jim’s heart splintered apart in his chest. “I’ll try to get used to it.”

The look on Nyota’s face told him she understood. She shifted so her arm draped around his shoulders, and Jim put one around her waist.

They stood on the balcony together until it became too cold, and then they said goodnight.

-----

The next day dawned, and the talks started in the morning and lasted until dinner. Jim was exhausted and politely excused himself, taking the roundabout way to his chambers. He hadn’t really slept since the mess with Bones, and it wore on him.

It snowed again that day, almost enough to qualify as a blizzard. Jim contacted the Enterprise to make sure they could still get a read on their communicators in spite of the bad weather conditions. They could, and Scotty reassured Jim that everything was fine up in space.

Jim opened his room door, turning to close it and leaning against it. He hoped he could sleep tonight.

When he turned, he saw Bones sitting on his bed, fully clothed this time.

“I have no idea how I beat you here,” Bones said. “But I’m glad I did.”

Jim’s eyes clouded over. “I wasn’t…what are you doing here?”

Bones stood. “I’ve made my decision.”

Jim felt the earth drop from under his feet. Bones being here so fast could only mean one thing. “I think I know what you’re going to say,” he whispered, his heart aching at the realization that Bones was done.

Bones didn’t speak for a long time; when he finally did, he prefaced it with a sigh. “Why do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“That,” Bones said. “Make all these assumptions. You assumed I wasn’t talking about you when I admitted I wanted someone. You assumed all I wanted was sex the other night. And now you’re assuming I’ve come to kick you to the curb.”

“Because I’m scared,” Jim said as he picked at his cuticles. “I’ve spent years thinking you could never want me, so when you said there was someone you wanted, I assumed it wasn’t me because you’ve never indicated any interest in me before. I assumed all you wanted was sex because again, you never indicated you cared about me more than as a friend. I was too afraid to ask questions because I couldn’t stomach the thought of hearing you tell me I didn’t mean anything to you.” Jim sighed. “What do you mean by that last? Because why else would you be here so fast except to tell me to kiss off.”

Bones shook his head a few times. “You really should have more faith in me.”

“It’s not you I don’t have it in,” Jim said. “I ruin everything I touch. Why would you want me? We’re friends. We’ve only ever been just friends.” Jim swallowed and looked down at the floor. “Or at least we were friends. I don’t know what we are right now.”

Bones pursed his lips. “You are without a doubt the most stubborn sack of shit, James T. Kirk.”

Jim met his gaze then. “Excuse me?”

“Pull your head out of your ass for five minutes,” Bones continued. “I know it’s hard since it’s up there often enough that your brain just thinks it’s a hat, but seriously. For the love of God, I need you to stop being so stupid.”

Jim drew himself up to his full height. “What the shit, Bones?”

“I am so fucking sick of you deciding things without my input,” Bones said. “You decided I could never want you, so you fucked everything up for us by being a shithead to me for no reason and then by pulling that stupid stunt with the aparellament. Now you’re deciding that I’m here to dump you when that most certainly is not why I came. Just…stop.”

Something edged onto Jim’s heart; it was a lot like hope, which was dangerous. “Then why are you here?”

“Because I love you, you idiot, and I can’t seem to stop,” Bones said. “In spite of your best efforts, I can’t fucking stop.”

Jim’s eyes widened. “But…”

“I am still upset you terminated the bond, don’t get me wrong,” Bones said. “But after hearing your explanation, I can understand why you made that mistake. I can also understand why you went along with it. The whole reason why I did it was so I’d be brave enough to finally tell you how I feel. It’s not like some aphrodisiac that creates feelings from nothing; it only works if both people are in love. So I did it because I figured it wouldn’t work if Nyota was wrong. But then it did, and I came here…” Bones sighed. “It does something to you, lowers inhibitions, but I guess I didn’t speak plainly enough when we…when we were together. Although, you should have just asked me, you ass.”

Taking a step toward him, Jim swallowed. He didn’t speak, though; he couldn’t.

“I’ve done nothing but think since you left the other morning,” Bones said. “At first, I honestly wasn’t sure I still wanted to be with you. But the more I thought about it, the more I heard what you actually said when you confessed. The more I thought of that, the more I realized I still want to be with you.”

Jim took more steps towards Bones. He stood a meter apart from him, and that close, he could see the love in his eyes. For the first time, Jim knew it wasn’t a product of his imagination. He knew it was genuine, and he hoped his own feelings shone on his face.

“It’s too late to do another aparellament,” Bones said. “But if you want to do something like, I don’t know, move in together, we can do that.”

“It might not be,” Jim said. “Empress Riginalla told me about something we can do to try to repair the bond. It involves both of us, and apparently it’s pretty difficult, but…I mean…if you want.”

“Really?” Bones brightened. “So, we can still…”

“Yeah, but I think we have to do it right now,” Jim said. “She said the longer a bond goes incomplete, the more it fades away. We don’t have a lot of time.”

“Just a second,” Bones said.

Jim gave him a curious look; before he could ask why, Bones closed the distance between them and wrapped Jim in his arms, holding on for dear life. Jim rested his head on his shoulder, his arms sliding around Bones’ waist. They held each other for a few minutes, and Jim’s heart thudded in his chest.

They pulled back to look at each other, and both of them smiled. “Let’s go,” Bones said, taking Jim by the hand.

They ran to a part of the palace Jim hadn’t been to before; it was down in the cellar, and several glass stalls sat next to each other along a far wall.

An older woman sat mixing something in a pail. “You are back,” she said to Bones. “Is he your estimat?”

“Yes,” Bones said without hesitation. “But something happened, and we were unable to complete the bond. I know it’s too late to do another aparellament, but Empress Riginalla told us about something else that can be done.”

Ànima reparació,” Jim said. “That’s what she called it.”

The woman looked at them with scrutiny. “The ànima reparació has never been used for such a purpose. I cannot promise this will work.”

“We understand,” Jim said. “We’re willing to risk it.”

Her ice blue eyes bore into them, assessing. She nodded. “Very well then. I shall ready the chambers.”

Jim let go of a breath he didn’t know he held. “Thank you.”

“Yes, thank you,” Bones said.

Jim watched the woman mix together something in two wooden buckets. “Do we...do we have to strip?” he whispered to Bones.

“We shouldn’t,” Bones said. “I didn’t have to last time. It’s sort of like a sauna, only the steam is...I don’t really know how to explain it. It took an hour last time, this one might take longer.”

Jim nodded. “How will we know if it works?”

Bones shrugged. “I just...knew. I suddenly couldn’t get you off my mind, no matter what I tried to think of. My only goal was seeking you out.” Bones blushed. “And I was pretty desperate for sex with you. It felt like I went into heat.”

“Well, it is a mating thing,” Jim said, “So I guess that makes sense. And also explains pretty much everything.”

“Yeah,” Bones said. “Jim, if this doesn’t work...”

“It’ll work,” Jim said, turning to him. “It has to.”

Bones looked at him. “All I want to say is, it doesn’t mean I love you any less. It doesn’t mean we won’t be okay. We will be, all right?”

Jim smiled. “I know. We can get married or something. We can have it all, with or without a life bond.”

Bones opened his mouth to reply, when the woman cleared her throat. “It is done,” she said, gesturing to two adjacent stalls.

They faced each other, Bones reaching down to take Jim’s hands in his. “Good luck,” he said as he stepped into one stall.

“You too,” Jim said as he got into the second one. The doors sealed, and Jim sat for a few minutes. Then blue steam filled the stall, and Jim coughed a little.

He probably should have thought to ask if he was allergic to it.

The steam smelled familiar, although Jim couldn’t place it right away. The stall began to swelter, and Jim contemplated pulling off his tunic. He sat on a bench leaning his head against the back wall, and sweat poured down his face.

At the very least, it was relaxing, and Jim closed his eyes. The heat increased over the next few minutes, and Jim’s clothes became soaked from the steam and his sweat. His body started to feel hot, but a different kind of hot. It burned almost like an itch, his thoughts turning to Bones.

Jim looked into the stall next to him; Bones sat in a similar position, his clothing also soaked. His eyes were closed, and his head had tilted back. His bangs were plastered to his forehead with sweat, and Jim clenched his hands, wishing he could touch him.

The heady scent on the air grew thicker, and Jim struggled to place it. It smelled warm and familiar, like he could never tire of smelling it. He took a deep breath when it hit him.

It smelled like Bones.

Jim made a low groan in the back of his throat. More and more, all he could focus on was Bones. The way he looked, the movement of his chest as he breathed, the way his hands felt on him the other night. Jim rubbed his hands on his thighs, his legs falling open. He bit his bottom lip; when he closed his eyes, all he saw was Bones.

He was surrounded by Bones, but he couldn’t touch him. He was so close and he couldn’t touch him. He needed to touch him, to be touched by him. He needed him.

Jim shifted so he pressed up to the glass by Bones, who had done the same. He turned to face him, pressing one hand up against it. He couldn’t hear Bones, but he saw him mouth his name as he pressed his hand up against Jim’s through the glass. Jim made a frustrated whine; it wasn’t enough. He was on fire, and the only cure was joining with Bones.

Jim had no idea how long they had been in there, but it became something akin to torture. He pressed his other hand up to the glass, and again Bones mouthed his name.

The wall couldn’t have been more than a couple of inches thick, but it may as well have been ten meters for how far apart they were. “Bones,” Jim said, his voice hoarse. “Bones, I need...”

Bones nodded. “Me too,” he mouthed.

Jim cried out, shaking his head. No, he needed to get out. He needed to get to Bones. He needed something, anything more than what he had. But he couldn’t...he had to stay until it was complete.

He didn’t know how much more he could take.

Every thought was Bones. How Bones smelled, his smile, the feel of his hand on Jim’s skin, the beating of his heart, the sound of his voice, his laughter, the way his eyes changed color...it was overwhelming.

Jim’s heart pounded in his chest. How much time had passed? He had no idea. Too much. Any would be too much.

The steam intensified, and Jim let out a whimper, clawing at the glass. It had to end soon, it had to end. When he got out, he would climb Bones like a tree. He needed him. He loved him. He ached for him.

Just when Jim couldn’t stand it any longer, the steam dissipated. The stall cooled, and Jim stopped sweating. His breathing was deep and heavy, and he made a cry like a wounded animal. “Bones.”

Bones opened his eyes, staring into his. His pupils were blown wide, and he looked as feverish as Jim felt. “Jim,” he said.

The lock was turned on Jim’s door, and it opened from the outside. Torn between staying close to Bones and getting out, Jim hesitated to move. Jim watched the woman open Bones’ door, and as one, they got up and left the stalls.

They stood before each other, and before Jim could think twice, he grabbed Bones by the shirt, crushing their mouths together. Bones moaned into the kiss, reaching his hands up into Jim’s sweaty hair. They lingered together for a long time, not wanting to break contact. Jim felt his cock harden in his pants, and he broke the kiss to pant.

“We...we need to go,” Jim said. “Or else I swear I’ll do you on the floor.”

Bones clutched him by the back of his shirt. “I don’t care. I can’t wait.”

A throat cleared about three meters away from them. They turned and faced the woman who performed the ritual. “I gather it was successful?” she asked with a mischievous smile.

Jim paused, realizing that all he wanted was Bones. But it was deeper than that...it was like he could feel Bones inside him, in his soul.

It had worked.

“Yeah,” Jim said. “Thank you.”

“Yes, thank you,” Bones said, his eyes shining bright.

“Go on,” she said with a wave.

Jim didn’t have to be told twice. He grabbed Bones’ hand and pulled, sprinting back through the palace. Halfway to his room he got thwarted, because Bones pulled him into an alcove where they made out for a few minutes.

“I understand now,” Jim said in between kisses. “When you said you burn for me.”

Bones nodded. “I think I always have.”

“Yeah,” Jim said. He kissed him breathless. “In case you’re not sure, I burn for you, Bones. And I’m gonna burn right up into ashes unless we get back to my room.”
Bones bit his lip. “Not into public sex?”

“Not this time,” Jim said. “Please, Bones.” He pulled away, again leading him down the hall. They ran the rest of the way to Jim’s room, slamming the door closed behind them.

It took all of ten seconds for Jim to grab Bones by the shirt and shove his back into the door. “Jim…”

Whatever it was he was going to say, Jim plundering his mouth swallowed it. Bones made a dirty sounding moan into the kiss, clutching Jim’s back. Jim lined up their bodies so their groins met, rubbing his up into Bones’.

“We’re not gonna make it to the bed this time,” Jim said, panting. “I don’t even know that we’re gonna get our clothes off.”

Bones grabbed the hem of Jim’s shirts, ripping them up over his head. He reached down, trying to undo the fly of his pants. “I don’t care.”

“Oh good, we agree,” Jim said as he returned the favor, slipping his hand inside to cup Bones’ erection. “Fuck.”

“Yes,” Bones said. “Here. The door. Now.”

“But…” Jim looked back towards the oil they used before.

Bones turned his face back towards him, planting a searing kiss on his mouth. “No time.”

“Oh fuck,” Jim said, pulling down his pants and briefs. Bones did the same, dropping his boxers and pants to his knees. Jim lined their bodies up again, thrusting up into Bones’ groin. Their cocks slid together, and Bones half-screamed, half-sighed. Bones picked up one of his legs and wrapped it around Jim’s waist.

Jim thrust him hard into the door, pounding them against it. He feverishly kissed Bones, grunting into each one. Bones hands dug into Jim’s shoulders, and he groaned out a desperate, “Gonna come.”

Jim broke the kiss and nodded. “Me too. Fuck.”

Bones whined a little, panting into Jim’s ear as his come shot out onto Jim’s chest.

“Yes,” Jim said as Bones sagged against him. He reached a hand down and stroked Jim’s cock.

“Come on me,” Bones said, and Jim’s brain, which was already pretty fried, short-circuited. It took a second, but then Jim was gone, spraying Bones’ shirt with his release.

Jim looked into Bones’ eyes as he tried to regulate his breathing. “So um…that was different.”

Bones made a face. “Door knob.”

“What?”

That was when Jim noticed the expression on Bones’ face went from blissed out to actual pain. “Door. Knob. In. My. Back.”

“Oh shit,” Jim said, pulling him away. “Sorry, I didn’t…”

“It’s fine,” Bones said, rubbing his lower back with a frown. “I didn’t even notice until I came.”

Jim sighed. “I am sorry, I didn’t even look when I slammed you into it.”

“I’ve had worse,” Bones said. “I mean, not from sex. In general. I’ll just have to sleep carefully tonight.”

Jim nodded when something occurred to him. “So um. Like I said, this was different. We didn’t…we weren’t this desperate the other night.”

“No, I was,” Bones said. “You took over and slowed us down.”

“Oh, I guess I did,” Jim said. “Fuck, this was intense. My legs are wobbly.”

“Let’s sit down,” Bones said. “Or lay down.”

Jim looked towards his tub. “Actually, I have a better idea.”

Bones gave him a curious look. “Should I be growing concerned?”

“Nah, you’ll like it,” Jim said as he walked to the servant’s call bell. He rang it, and before he could finish fixing his clothes, there came a timid knock on his door. Bones pulled off his come-stained tunic and made sure he was decent.

Jim opened the door, and Phylon greeted him.

“You called, Captain?”

“Yes, my estimat and I would like to bathe,” Jim said. “I realize it’s late but…”

“I will bring the water with haste,” Phylon said with a bow. He turned and left, Jim shutting the door behind him.

Bones rubbed his lower back. “A bath?”

“It’ll be good for your back,” Jim said. “Besides, I’ve kind of fantasized about doing something like this with you. Two birds, one stone.”

Bones smiled. “Sure, Jim. That sounds nice.”

Phylon returned with two buckets full of steaming water that smelled vaguely of minerals. With practiced ease, he poured the water into the tub, filling it just enough that it wouldn’t overflow with both of them in it. “Was there anything else, Captain?”

“No this is it, thank you Phylon,” Jim said with a smile.

“I bid you good evening, then,” Phylon said with a bow. He left with the buckets, closing the door tight behind him.

Jim stripped out of his clothing, Bones following suit, and they sank down into the water. Bones sat in between Jim’s legs with his back to him, and Jim pulled him close, content to hold him. Bones hummed out a pleased sound as they spooned together in the almost-too-hot water.

“So were you serious? When you suggested we move in together?” Jim asked.

Bones stiffened. “If you don’t want that…”

“I didn’t say that. I’m asking because I can’t really imagine going back to separate quarters after this.” Jim nuzzled behind Bones’ ear. “It’d be like slamming on the brakes.”

“I agree,” Bones said, and Jim could feel his relief. “So I guess the question is your quarters on the Enterprise or mine?”

“Mine are bigger,” Jim said. “I haven’t used half the space they gave me. You know I don’t own that many clothes.”

“True,” Bones said, leaning back and scooting down so his head rested against Jim’s right shoulder. “All right, I’ll start moving my stuff when we get back at the end of the week.”

Jim smiled. “Good.” He reached over to the table next to the tub, grabbing a container of red liquid. “Here, I’ll wash you.”

Bones smiled. “You don’t have to.”

“I want to,” Jim said. He grabbed a cloth from the table, soaking it in the water. He then poured some of the red stuff onto it, working it into a lather. It smelled exotic, like rich spices, and Jim busied himself by soaping Bones’ chest. He washed Bones’ body slowly, lavishing it with affectionate caresses. He paid careful attention to the bruise on his back from the doorknob.

Jim dropped the cloth in the water, cupped his hands, and poured water over Bones to rinse him off. Bones sat up on his knees and turned to face Jim in the tub. “My turn,” he said, grabbing the red liquid and the cloth.

Jim leaned forward, and Bones lathered him up, running the cloth in slow circles over his body. Bones’ eyes focused on his chest as Jim watched his face; he was focused, and there was a slight smile on his lips.

Bones dropped the cloth, putting water in his hands to rinse Jim. Jim sighed a little as the water dripped over him. Bones looked into Jim’s eyes, and Jim smiled at him.

“You feel happy,” Bones said.

“I am,” Jim said. “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”

Bones reached out a hand and placed it over Jim’s heart. “Me too.”

Jim smiled at him for a long time before his phrasing registered. “Wait, did you say I feel happy?”

“Yeah,” Bones said. “You can’t feel me?”

Jim leaned back against the tub and concentrated. He did feel something, actually. It felt like a mix of fond exasperation and love. If he listened, it was like he had a second heartbeat. “Whoa,” Jim said. “I can feel you.”

Bones raised an eyebrow. “You hadn’t noticed?”

“No, I noticed right after,” Jim said. “I just…it feels so right to have this, I didn’t really think about it.” He leaned forward to gather Bones into his arms. Bones went willingly, resting his head on his shoulder. “This is awesome.”

Bones smiled, bringing their faces close enough that their noses touched. Jim took the opportunity and kissed him. Bones sighed into it, and Jim pressed him into the tub.

The kissing grew heated, and Jim broke it to pant. “God, are we going to always be like this?” he asked as he pressed kisses to Bones’ jaw.

“Like what?” Bones said with a sigh.

“Like this, where we’re all over each other,” Jim said, dipping his head down to lick Bones’ throat.

Bones grabbed the edge of the tub with one hand, the other sliding across the wet skin of Jim’s back. “I didn’t think to ask, actually.”

Jim didn’t answer; he was too busy sucking on a spot on Bones’ neck. He reached down into the water, wrapping his fingers around Bones’ cock. Bones sighed and closed his eyes. He tilted his head back to give Jim better access, and Jim made an approving sound.

Jim stroked him, slow and hard, as he continued to kiss his throat. Bones’ hips arched in time with his hand, and the water sloshed against the sides of the tub. Jim bent his head down, pressing kisses to Bones’ shoulder and collarbones.

Jim paused to rub his thumb across the slit on Bones’ head before resuming his stroking. Bones’ hand gripped the edge of the tub so hard his knuckles turned white as he thrust his hips up into Jim’s hand. Jim sensed his orgasm before it happened, and he pumped Bones’ cock as he came with a cry.

Making a soothing noise in his throat, Jim kissed Bones on the cheek as he brought him down. Bones’ hand slid up Jim’s back to his neck, turning his face to press a kiss to his mouth. He moved, pushing Jim back into the other side of the tub.

Jim smiled at him as Bones’ hand closed around his cock. “I wasn’t complaining, just so you know.”

“About what?” Bones asked as he peppered Jim’s collarbone with kisses.

“About this. About us…” Jim groaned as Bones gave his cock a squeeze. “The constant sex thing. I ain’t complaining.”

“Duly noted,” Bones said as his hand slid up and down Jim’s shaft, sometimes palming the head. His strokes were just like Jim’s, slow and hard, and Jim writhed under his ministrations. Again the water splashed against the tub walls but somehow didn’t spill over.

Jim closed his eyes so he could do nothing but feel Bones. His body was warm, his grip firm, and he smelled like a combination of himself and the soap they just used. Again, there was that second set of emotions and heartbeat. Bones sucked on a spot on his neck, and for once Jim couldn’t be bothered to care about hickeys.

Being marked by Bones…the thought was amazing.

It didn’t take very long for Jim’s orgasm to approach, and he let out a low whine in his throat. Bones sped his hand, stroking him harder, and Jim came.

“Oh fuck,” Jim said. “Bones…”

He opened his eyes, staring right into Bones’ green ones. Bones had a soft smile on his face, and Jim reached out his hands to cup his cheeks. He brought them close, and they kissed. This time it didn’t go anywhere; it just lingered on two people in love.

They broke apart, and Bones looked down at the water. “It’s starting to get cold.”

Jim nodded and held a hand up to his face. “Yeah, I’m all pruney. We should get out and go to bed.”

Bones stood, reaching down to help Jim out of the water. Jim took his hands. They carefully stepped over the edge of the tub, and Bones grabbed a towel.

“Here,” he said as he wrapped Jim in it, rubbing him down with the thick, soft fabric. Jim’s eyes didn’t leave Bones’ face until he dropped down to his knees to dry Jim’s legs and feet. Jim grabbed a towel of his own and returned the favor, drying Bones thoroughly. Once he was satisfied, he steered Bones over to the giant bed that didn’t seem so lonely anymore.

They climbed under the sheets together, lying so they faced each other. Jim yawned, the lack of sleep for the past few days catching up with him. Bones leaned in and kissed Jim. Jim sighed into it before breaking it.

“What’s wrong?” Bones asked with concern in his eyes.

“As much as I want to stay up all night with you,” Jim said, “I haven’t slept since before we came down here, so I really need to tonight.”

Bones nodded. “I haven’t done much better.”

“Yeah,” Jim said. He snuggled in as close to Bones as he could get, feeling his breath on his cheek. “I have a feeling I’ll sleep really well tonight,” he said with a yawn. “Can’t imagine why.”

Chuckling, Bones closed his eyes. “Good night, Jim. I’ll be here when you wake.”

“Same here,” Jim said as his eyes drifted closed. “Same here.”

------

The next morning came, and Jim opened his eyes to find Bones still asleep in front of him. His heart quickened, and he reached out a hand to trace his cheekbones.

Bones’ eyes fluttered open, and he gave Jim a curious and sleepy look.

“Sorry,” Jim said. “I couldn’t help it.”

“You’re fine,” Bones said with a yawn. He looked up past Jim to the clock on the wall. His eyes widened, and he shot up. “Shit!”

“Are we late?” Jim said as he also sat up.

“No, but we will be,” Bones said as he ran around the room to grab his clothes. “We’ve got fifteen minutes.”

Bones picked up his tunic and made a face at the stains on it. Jim almost didn’t see it, as he was too busy grabbing his own clothes and getting dressed.

“We’re gonna have to run,” Jim said as he pulled yesterday’s tunic down over his head. Hopefully no one would notice.

“We have to swing by my room so I can get a clean shirt,” Bones said as he finished fastening his boots.

“Sure,” Jim said. They ran to the door, and Jim slammed it closed behind them. Bones’ chambers were on the same hall, so they grabbed him a fresh tunic, and he pulled it on as they ran through the palace to the meeting hall. They arrived with two minutes to spare, and Jim and Bones took their seats with Spock and Nyota.

Spock’s eyebrow rose, but he didn’t comment.

Nyota, however…a smug smile formed on her face. “Good morning, Jim. Leonard.”

“Morning, Lieutenant,” Jim said as his cheeks flushed.

“Yeah, hi,” Bones said. He cleared his throat and looked at the table in front of him.

“Both of you look like you had a good night,” Nyota continued.

Jim’s flush deepened. “Can’t complain.”

Bones cleared his throat a second time.

Nyota’s smile turned downright wicked. “You have a hickey, Jim,” she stage-whispered. “And your tunic is inside out, Leonard.”

Certain he looked like a deer in headlights as he brought a hand up to touch his throat, Jim blinked a few times in alarm. Bones was very interested in the grain of the table all of a sudden, and his face was bright red.

Jim contemplated diving under the table and conducting their business from the floor when the Empress entered the chamber. They all stood and she took her seat to the right of Jim. Her eyes trained on each of the Starfleet officers, lingering on Jim and Bones.

A knowing smile spread across her face, and she nodded her head at Jim. Jim nodded back, and everyone took their seats to begin the peace talks. Jim felt Bones’ mortification, but his hand snuck under the table to find his. Not smiling so he wouldn’t give them away, Jim turned his attention to the Empress. The talks began, and once again they were smooth.

During the course of them, Jim would catch Bones’ eye, and they would smile to each other. Yeah, it was a bit unprofessional, but after everything that happened, they couldn’t help themselves. Riginalla didn’t seem to mind, either.

As Bones squeezed his hand under the table, and as Jim felt his love, he realized it didn’t matter. Jim learned his lesson about making assumptions, and things worked out for the best. He could count on Bones, and Bones could count on him.

As Bones said that first night, together they were one.